Home Town to Downtown - Graduate scores high marks for Le Meridien

Monday, October 11, 2004

Jim Graves

Behind an unassuming façade across from the Minneapolis Target Center, world-weary travelers, besieged celebrities, and seekers of romantic getaways discover a spectacular surprise in Jim Graves’ Le Meridien. The hotel is a rare combination of soothing luxury and high-tech excitement, a sumptuous oasis among neighbors like Starbucks and Hard Rock Cafe.

In the two years since Graves opened Le Meridien, it’s been earning awards and accolades from travel experts and guests who appreciate its amenities and its dramatic decor. The Travel Channel included it among its picks for the six most luxurious hotels in the world in a segment that will air this fall. It won Hospitality Design’s New Hotel of the Year Award, and in May it was included in the Conde Nast Traveler 2004 hot list for best new world-class hotels.

The 255-room upscale inn is, according to The New York Times, a “hybrid of SoHo slick and Minnesota nice, turning Le Meridien and its restaurant, bar and nightclub into the weekend spot for the local uber-hip.”

Le MeridienFor Graves, a St. Cloud native who grew up in modest, middle-class surroundings with five brothers and sisters and worked as many as 40 hours a week while attending SCSU,
Le Meridien is a big step up. It also was a grand risk that worked, attracting celebrities
and successful business travelers who appreciate the private entrance, 24-hour gourmet chef, and round-the-clock room and concierge service.

“People ask me if I fit in with this culture,” he said, gesturing to the sleek, chic surroundings of the hotel’s fourth-floor Cosmos bar and restaurant. “To me, it’s my business. I’m involved in filling a specific need for an upscale hotel here.”

The luxurious extras in each room include a 42-inch plasma screen television, $3,000 pillow-top bed covered in Egyptian cotton sheets, and bathroom with TV, phone and five-head shower. The décor was designed by cutting-edge artist Yabu Pushelberg, the current it team in international design.

“This is THE hotel in Minneapolis, the most expensive with the most amenities. We do a lot of pampering here. It’s all in the details.”

BellhopIt’s been gradual, Graves said of his rise to the top of the hospitality business. After what he characterized as a solid educational foundation from SCSU – “a good well-rounded liberal arts kind of experience” – he was a teacher for a couple of years in the 1970s, then entered the development/real estate business. By 1981, he had founded the AmericInn Motels International chain, which he sold in 1994. In recent years his Graves Development and Graves Hospitality companies have developed Marriott and Radisson hotels (including St. Cloud’s), culminating in the Minneapolis Le Meridien, part of a world-wide chain of upscale hotels.

“I didn’t have a vision of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life while I was at SCSU,” Graves said. “But I got a good foundation and I learned how to learn and how to accept life’s only certainty – change.”

Graves runs his businesses as he has his life, with a healthy appreciation for the people who surround him. That includes his wife, Julie, whom he met while at SCSU, three married sons and three grandchildren.

Restaurant“In our business we try to build loyalty and consistency,” he said, adding that he looks for the “three Cs” in those he hires – character, competency and commitment. ”I cherish the idea of having somebody be a long-term staff member who’s loyal and understands it’s mutually beneficial for them to stay with us.”

It’s a Graves family trait, this loyalty. Oldest son Ben, also an SCSU graduate and the vice president for operations in the family companies, shares Jim’s business goals – better the community, please guests and remain profitable while being good to employees.

“One of the housekeepers I hired is now general manager of one of our properties,” Ben said. “I’m proud of that.”

The Graves also are proud of the entrepreneurial spirit that drove them to take the gamble of opening a hotel with rates that are $80 to $100 a night higher than any other Twin Cities room. “There’s nothing else like this in Minneapolis,” Ben said.

His father agrees, citing the famous quote from Will Rogers: “You got to go out on a limb to get the fruit.”

Making professional connections

GlassThe halls of Le Meridien, Minneapolis, resonated with shouts of a unified “ St. Cloud State!” last spring when SCSU alumni and faculty members from the G.R. Herberger College of Business showcased their Husky pride at an After Work Social at the premier luxury hotel.

A “who’s who” attendee list was distributed at the event to facilitate mingling, and the room was abuzz with conversation. Successful CEOs, presidents and entrepreneurs spent the evening talking to those who have been in the business for a while as well as those who are just starting their careers.
A comprehensive contact list was sent to participants after the event to help alumni maintain acquaintances made that night and build future professional connections.

The intent of the new program, initiated by the Alumni Association in response to comments from alumni who said they want the chance to network, is to help alumni make connections and advance their careers after graduation.
Look for a similar event in your college, department or field
in the future.

- Marsha Shoemaker

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